The Mesopotamian Civilization
By: April Carson
Mesopotamia is known as the first civilization and was believed to have begun around 3300 BC. Mesopotamia, which included modern-day Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and north eastern Saudi Arabia was said to be among the world's earliest urban societies with complex social structures including non-egalitarian classes of workers such as farmers who were slaves or prisoners of war from other civilizations they had conquered. They were also among the world's first literate societies and created such works as Epic of Gilgamesh and the Code of Hammurabi.
The word Mesopotamia means between two rivers, in reference to where it was believed to have been located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This place is now a hotbed for political conflict between the mainly Kurdish north and Arab central government for control of oil fields whose pipelines run out through Turkey.
Mesopotamia was home to many early civilizations, some of which have vanished as a result of competition between them or invasions by other civilizations such as the Amorites that conquered Sumerian city states and established the Babylonian Empire.
Humans settled in Mesopotamia and developed circular houses that would become the foundation of farming communities after the domestication of animals and development agriculture techniques including irrigation near two rivers: Tigris and Euphrates.
Around 8000 BC, people in Mesopotamia developed the concept of agriculture and began to domesticate animals for food and labor. It was around that time that humans began raising crops and gradually domesticated animals for both food and work. By 6000 BC, civilizations in the region were becoming more complex. People who inhabited the land developed irrigation to support agriculture and began developing writing c. 3500 BC. The need for food caused nomadic hunters to settle near sources of water, which resulted in a new way of life based on growing crops rather than hunting wild game. This agricultural revolution also contributed to the development of urban life in Mesopotamia, as people no longer had to live as nomads in order to survive.
One of the most significant aspects of ancient Mesopotamia is the invention of writing. There are several theories about where this occurred and the oldest known examples are from Uruk, a city-state in Sumer dated to 3400 BC located in modern day Iraq near Baghdad. This was a system developed for accounting as seen by its cuneiform appearance. Cuneiform was invented in 3rd millennium BC Syria and spread to Mesopotamia soon after. The need for accounting can be seen because of the large quantities of goods that were traded along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (which are navigable by boat). It is also likely that Uruk was a religious center as well as a city-state, and writing was invented by early priests to keep track of large numbers of livestock and goods that were brought in for services. It is likely that the priests then adapted their writing system to the language they spoke (Sumerian).
People had been making art for millennia before the Mesopotamians rose to prominence, but it was not yet a part of human civilization. It was the Mesopotamian civilization that developed and formalized all of these procedures, as well as combining them to establish the first society. They flourished in what are now Iraq's southern sands, known as Sumer, and spread their culture throughout Mesopotamia, or the "land between rivers." The first known civilization developed around 3400 B.C., when southern Mesopotamia was united under a king named Urukagina. However, many of the elements that composed the Mesopotamian society were already in place. The Sumerians had built a sophisticated irrigation system and established cities long before Urukagina's reign.
The development of art can be traced throughout the history of Mesopotamia, beginning with certain milestones. For example, cylinder seals—stone cylinders engraved with designs—were found in archaeological sites dating to around 3100 B.C., and proto-cuneiform, a writing system, is thought to have emerged about 30 years earlier.